A story on a Chicago charter school group that imposes strict disciplinary standards on its students ran on the front page of The Maui News Feb. 21. It was not an example of journalism excellence.
As reported by national news media, including the New York Times, Huffington Post and ABC News, the story was a superficial effort at "balancing" two sides of an issue that is irrelevant to educational quality. The "news" element was a protest by parents of students enrolled at the Noble Street College Prep schools in Chicago.
Established in 1999, Noble Street is a charter school network with a strict policy on student conduct that imposes demerits, detention and a $5 fee when a student is required to attend detention. Parents United for Responsible Education protested that Noble School's detention fees raised $386,745 over the past three years. The story was superfluous at best, while the reporting neglected key questions
The Associated Press version of the protest cited a parent who said her son was placed in detention 33 times and had been suspended several times. She argued the school's Code of Conduct is unreasonable when her child repeatedly violates it.
None of the reporters challenged the protesting parent to ask whether the problem is her child's attitude and behavior.
Thousands of students have thrived academically at the Noble Street campuses. They are able to conform their behavior to the standards imposed by the school while the protesting parents claimed the school's standards are the problem. It is a persistent dissimilitude in disputes of school quality - parents faulting a school and its teachers, not their child.
In the media reports, no one wants to suggest that a student's lapses may be the student's responsibility or that parenting failure may be a factor.
Reporters also didn't ask why the protesting parents didn't simply enroll their children in another public school. Noble Street is a public charter school. It is an educational choice with a demanding college-preparatory curriculum. No student is required to attend the school.
At the same time, the reporters failed to pursue an underlying facet of Noble Street's strict Code of Conduct and the school's claims of success. There is no report on the number of parents who withdraw their children from Noble Street.
The school's reports indicate there may be a significant withdrawal/dropout rate, although the numbers also are affected by students repeating grade levels for having high detention rates. Freshman enrollments are reported at 200 students or more, but graduating classes run 100 or less. Parents United claimed 473 students did not return for the 2010-2011 school year - 13 percent of the 3,683 freshmen, sophomores and juniors enrolled in spring 2010.
Among the thousands who graduate though, better than 90 percent go to college, many with scholarships. More than 80 percent are first in their families to attend college.
Noble Street's Code of Conduct seems draconian, but is comparable to rules imposed at private parochial schools. In a commentary on the protest, Fordham Institute analyst Adam Emerson listed Catholic schools in Illinois that impose fines on students for misbehavior, and one in Nebraska that sets a fine scale of $25, $50 and $75 for repeat offenses ("A price tag on misbehavior?", Feb. 16, 2012, Fordham Institute/Choice Words).
Strict rules can be seen as a way to persuade low-achieving students to go elsewhere. They also can be seen as a tool for instilling personal discipline in students to maintain a high-achieving atmosphere on a campus of high-risk students. Noble Street offers a model for holding students and parents responsible for a student's success in the classroom.
It will not work for every student. It works for those willing to comply.
* Edwin Tanji is a former city editor of The Maui News. He can be reached at email@example.com. "Haku Mo'olelo," "writing stories," is about stories that are being written or have been written. It appears every Friday. An expanded version of this column is posted in the blog section on The Maui News website at www.mauinews.com.